Bulb of the Month: Foxtail Lilies

Eremurus – the giants of spring

These plants are extraordinary in every way. Commonly known as foxtail lilies, they’re native to the high altitude plains in Asia, where each spring they produce tall spires of flowers up to 2.75m (9′). They need full sun, a fertile, well-drained soil, space (they hate being crowded) and a good summer baking with little water. In all the years we’ve offered them we’ve not heard of any animals or insects bothering them, but one look at their roots and you might understand why. Their roots look like giant spiders up to 60 cm (2′) across, scaring gardeners who see them for the first time. At the centre is the plant’s crown and radiating from it are the roots, which also act a support for the solid flower stalks. (You needn’t worry about wind with these guys, since they come from windy places.) Their foliage radiates from this crown, funneling rainfall to it. It dies back by mid-summer by which time I cut the flower stalk to the ground. The plants grow a new root each year and will eventually form a many stemmed clump, which should then be gently lifted and teased apart in the fall. Eremurus will also spread by seed, but I recommend that you cut off the flower stems before they go to seed, so the plant can direct its energy to the roots and next year’s flower. Their rate of growth is impressive, with tall varieties growing up to six inches in a day, which isn’t surprising when you consider that they grow to six to nine feet by mid-June! They are quite hardy. After all, they grow superbly in Saskatoon.

Eremurus can be difficult to establish, sometimes lurking underground for a year which, to those of us who sell them, can be a challenge. Or they just produce foliage (it resembles narcissus) in their first season. Patience is required, as is often the case with choice garden treasures. One of their best characteristics is their June flowering – just in time for garden tours where there’s nothing like a six-to-nine foot plant to impress the visitors. My obsession with these has resulted in the large selection we offer every fall. Here are some of the family.

Eremurus himalaicus
These came from the Himalayan hillsides there I can imagine the six foot, snow white flowers gently rocking in the breeze. While not the tallest, E.himalaicus has the biggest flower and always makes a nice healthy root, as does E.robustus. The roots of others are often dried out with little sign of life but, after an overnight soaking before planting, will grow just fine.

Eremurus robustus

By far the tallest of the species, with light pink flowers atop spikes that can reach nine feet. A very impressive plant indeed.

Eremurus Ruiter hybrids
These flower in shades of yellow, orange and pink. When buying a mixture, you can expect shades of yellow and orange, but there also some named varieties like Cleopatra (orange), Pinocchio (golden yellow), Moneymaker (chrome yellow) and Romance (light pink). These are generally shorter, with a mature height of four to five feet.

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